The 53rd session
on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is coming
to a close, and there is much to tell about what right-wing organizations
have been up to throughout the duration of this year’s session.
The fact that this year’s primary theme is "the equal sharing of
responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the
context of HIV/AIDS" mattered little to these organizations, which
brought the same old issues to the table: abortion and sexual orientation.
Abortion and sexual orientation
are inextricably interconnected in the minds of individuals from right-wing
organizations like Family Watch International, Concerned Women for America
and United Families International. According to these groups,
"sexual rights" is code for "homosexuality" and "reproductive
health" is code for "abortion" and the advocates for sexual and
reproductive health and rights are all "radical feminists" and "homosexual
I attended two CSW parallel
events sponsored by Endeavor Forum Inc., an Australian organization
established to "counter feminism, defend the unborn and the traditional
family," and Concerned Women for America, which seeks to "promote
Biblical values among all …thereby reversing the decline in moral
values in our nation." They come to meetings like this not only
to influence the outcome of the Commission’s "agreed conclusions"
relating to the priority themes, but also for the opportunity to reach
out to the members of civil society present for the CSW.
Their goal is to cultivate
ambassadors for their messages – offering refreshments and gifts of baby
clothes, among other things, to establish a feeling of good will.
The most bizarre example of the "freebies" distributed at the parallel
events was recounted to me by a colleague from Panama. She attended
a session sponsored by Human Life International where organizers handed
out rubber fetus dolls in peach and brown tones, holding up the latter
and crying out cheerfully that they had "chocolate ones for the Africans!"
Honestly, you couldn’t make up something this patently bizarre and
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The titles of two of the parallel
events I attended, "Breast Cancer Risk Reduction," and "Link Between
Mental Health and Reproductive Issues" indicated that they would be
addressing separate issues, but the core message was the same: abortion
destroys women’s lives.
The "Breast Cancer Risk Reduction"
session featured Angela LaFranchi, a breast cancer surgeon and Clinical
Assistant Professor of surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
who believes that terminating or deferring a pregnancy heightened a
woman’s risk of breast cancer. She cited that a woman who gave
birth at age 18 to a child carried full term had 50-75% less risk of
developing breast cancer than a woman who did so at age 30. She then
claimed that a woman who terminated her pregnancy before it was carried
to full term actually had an increased risk of developing breast cancer,
and women who had had multiple abortions faced even higher risk.
She even expressed her hope that attendees could counsel a teenager
to carry a pregnancy, even an unwanted one, in order to prevent breast
cancer! When she closed by stating that the difference between
having an abortion and carrying a child to term was the difference between
"dead and dismembered or intact and alive," whatever credibility
she had left went out the window.
The "Link Between Mental
Health and Reproductive Issues" session featured stories from several
women about the immense pain and trauma they experience as a result
of their decision to have an abortion. Many spoke of being pressured
by family or partners to have an abortion against their will, and counseled
against having an abortion for any reason. There is no question
that the entire session was designed as a scare tactic to deter women
from exercising their own choices based on their conscience.
These sessions left me with
no doubt that abortion remains one of the most contested issues in the
arena of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and that it is one
the right wing will continue to harp on. We must remember, however,
that there are almost as many experiences, concerns and issues surrounding
abortion as there are women and men in the world. Ultimately,
the extreme right wing refuses to see this mosaic of choice, value,
and autonomy and sees only a black and white world of right and wrong.
It is this moral absolutism that disturbs me most.